Chestnuts I Have Known   Leave a comment

On Monday, Mimi was suffering from the remnants from a cold and was feeling too miserable to do much of anything. Housebound, I realized it was the perfect day to deal with the mountain of chestnuts that we had and decided to spend the morning with Mimi, making marrons glacés, candied chestnuts.

The morning sun filtered through the kitchen window and seemed to offer some kind of solar blessing to our project. We proceeded with great enthusiasm. At first.

To prepare chestnuts for cooking, (1) split them into two halves and boil for 7.5 minutes. Transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water. (2) The shell will slip off easily, (3) leaving behind only the brown skins to remove.

These are the instructions for blanching chestnuts that I found on-line. I’ve delineated the steps for a reason.

The first step, cutting the chestnuts in half, was challenging in its way, though not impossible. I blanched them as directed and then peeled off the outer shells, no problem. Notice, however, that these instructions do not offer a handy adjective to provide an idea about the degree of difficulty for the third step, removing those brown skins. There’s a reason for that.

That brown skin was something else again. Sometimes, I could get my paring knife underneath the skin and it would slip right off. When that happened, I felt in sync with the ancient rhythms of my ancestors, who undoubtedly performed this task back in the boonies of France.

Then there were the “rogue” chestnuts, whose skins simply would not come off without a lot of effort. Those were roughly treated, the skin peeled away as inefficiently as necessary by a cook whose small, sick child was growing increasingly tired of the chestnut project. Nearly two hours into the job, I finally had one quart’s worth of peeled chestnuts. Witness:

Yes, that is all there is. Luckily, it was enough.

To preserve chestnuts: simmer chestnuts, along with a split vanilla bean, in a small sauce pan at a low temperature until fork tender. This may take as long as two hours. Before cooking, weigh the chestnuts and prepare a sugar and water solution of equal weight. Simmer the sugar syrup over low heat until it thickens. This may take as long as two hours. When both the chestnuts and the syrup finish, drain the chestnuts, return them to the saucepan, submerge in the sugar syrup, add a slug of vanilla, and simmer at a low temperature until the chestnuts candy. This may take as long as an hour and a half.

It was slow going, but didn’t require much work on my part. Here are some blurry photographs of the results:

Am I happy with preserved chestnuts?

Well…I’m not one to complain about the workload, but really, this was too much for me. The tips of my fingers are shredded. It’s definitely not a job to do with a small child, especially not one who is already fractious.

The candied chestnuts and their syrup are, however, really fabulous over brown sugar ice cream.

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Posted November 21, 2009 by snpulling in Chestnuts, Dessert, Food Obsessions

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